Baptized saints in our Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Faith comes by hearing. Seeing is not believing, for many saw the works of the Christ, even as many saw the works of Moses and the Prophets, and they did not believe in the Holy One of Israel. No amount of miracles, even one as great as the resurrection of the dead, will be enough to convince someone into the Kingdom of Heaven if he will not hear the Word of God. That is why it was futile to send Lazarus back to the five unbelieving brothers of the Rich Man. They had all the proof they needed right in front of their noses. Did not Moses and the Prophets speak of the Christ, the Son of God? Was it not His own Spirit that inspired every sacred page of Holy Scripture? If they refused to listen to Moses and the Prophets, then why did this Rich Man think that the results would be any different if someone were to come back from the dead?
You know the answer. In the depraved and perverted minds of sinful men, signs count more than words. Miracles carry more weight than sermons and Scripture readings. Dynamic preachers with shiny suits and brightly lit sanctuaries are more convincing than ministers in white robes, standing behind pulpits. Haven’t we all reasoned like this before? “If only God would do something spectacular, then more people would believe!” “Why doesn’t God perform a miracle, so that people will wake up from their slumber?” We’re always more impressed with the touching story of how someone changed their life because of a life-threatening illness than we are by the ordinary stories of Christians who simply lived by faith in the Word of God. We’ve all hoped that something would happen to make our children, our friends, or our loved ones come to their senses and believe in their Savior. But the words of Abraham in the Gospel today teach us to put aside such vain hopes: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Faith comes by hearing, says the Apostle Paul, and hearing by the Word of God. Get over the idea that people can come to faith apart from the Word of God, or that faith can be nourished and sustained without the Word of God. There is no basis in Scripture for it. The Word is the Spirit’s vehicle for faith and salvation. Where the Word is absent or is not heard, neither can there be faith in Christ. Where God’s Word is rejected or ignored, as in the case of the Rich Man and his brothers, then all the miracles in the world won’t be enough to persuade people to think about God. Miracles take place every day. Children are conceived and born. Men whose hearts have stopped beating on the operating table have been brought back to life. The very fact that we live and breathe is a miracle unto itself. But how many people see these divine works and enter the kingdom of heaven? If such works could make people believe in Christ, would not our churches be full? If signs and resurrections could convince people of the Truth of God, then there would be no need for Moses and the Prophets, would there? There would be no need for the preaching of the Gospel, or even the Scriptures for that matter. Go ahead and send Lazarus back from the dead, so that maybe, just maybe my brothers will believe!
Dear Christians, you have something far greater than Moses and the Prophets. Not that Moses and the Prophets were not filled with God’s Spirit; not that they did not speak with His authority, but they were insufficient in one respect—they spoke of things that were to come, things that now are fulfilled in Christ and in you. Yes indeed, you have something much greater than Moses, someone much greater than all the Prophets of the Old Testament. You have the Mediator of a New Covenant, who shed His own blood in the presence of His Father to make atonement for the sins of all people. The One who appeared to Moses in a burning bush and spoke to Him has filled not a bush but human flesh with His fiery presence and lives now as true Man, risen from the dead; the One who slew the firstborn of Egypt and brought the people of Israel out of Egypt has become the Lamb slain to save you from the Angel of Death. The same One now stands among you, though you cannot see Him, and speaks His life-giving Word to you here.
With His Word He credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness, as He also does for you. For when you hear the words “I forgive you all your sins” whose voice are you hearing but the Lord’s? And do these words lie? Do they not mean what they say? Indeed! Whoever hears these words and believes them has what they say: the forgiveness of sins. Do you then doubt that Christ loves you and forgives your sins? Do you consider yourself too damaged for Him? Put aside such doubts. Christ has spoken.
Whatever sin and impurity you brought with you today, it is forgiven, as surely as you sit here today. Were your hearts, like that of the Rich Man in today’s Gospel, set on earthly things? Did your money and possessions bring you more joy and contentment than the Lord your God? Repent! Trust in Christ’s suffering and death. Were you guilty of turning away poor Lazarus in his time of need by your lack of generosity and compassion for others? Repent! And lean on the mercy of your heavenly Father. Have you defiled yourself with the pleasures of the flesh and the lust of the eyes? Repent! And be ashamed no longer. For Christ has conquered even the ugliest and most shameful of sins. Those of you who have little, do you envy those who have much? And those who have much, do you scoff at those who have little? Turn from your pride and envy. And look with faith to the abundant riches of heaven, where Christ is forever seated at the right hand of God.
The point of the story in the Gospel today about the rich man and Lazarus was not that only the poor will go to heaven. Abraham was counted righteous in God’s sight, and he was very rich. No, indeed. It is certainly more difficult, as Jesus says, for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, because their hearts are often set on their abundant riches. Whereas the beggars like Lazarus have nothing in this life for their hearts to cling to so they often cling much easier to Christ. But it is certainly not impossible for those who are rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. But the point of the story today is that only those who are rich toward God will enter the kingdom of heaven. Lazarus, though he was humble and poor in this life, was rich toward God—that is, his heart trusted in God’s Word. The rich man, dressed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day, was poor towards God. He lacked faith in the Lord his God. And so he ended up in Hades, to suffer for all eternity. The tables were turned. God despised the proud and grave grace to the humble. He put down the mighty from his throne and exalted the humble and lowly. The poor in spirit inherited the Kingdom of heaven. The meek inherited the earth. Divine justice was served. He who received table scraps from a rich man is treated like a king and seated at the heavenly table, where the generous hand of Christ is always extended to Lazarus, and to you. Amen.